What Is an Emerging Contaminant?

Industrial, commercial and agricultural activities are major contributors to waterway pollution and can have large impacts on water quality. But did you know that our daily routines can have implications on water quality, too? Contaminants that enter our waterways through wastewater and storm water sewers have the potential to adversely impact the health of our water and the life, both human and aquatic, that depend on it.  

Products that we wash down the sink, flush down the toilet or apply to our lawns are in a classification of contaminants coined “emerging contaminants.” These contaminants enter our waterways through storm water drains and wastewater sewers. While wastewater is treated for many different harmful substances and microbes, most of our water treatment facilities and techniques were not developed with these new and different compounds in mind.   As their name says, these contaminants are an emerging and are a relatively new focus in the water quality world.  Researchers are looking to understand the impacts of these contaminants on water quality and aquatic life.

Emerging contaminants is an umbrella label for any compound that is not monitored for by water treatment facilities. This can include prescription drugs, antibiotics, recreational drugs, herbicides and even personal care products.

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